When a restaurant has “spice” in its name and chili peppers for a logo, that’s a pretty good sign the food will pack some heat.
But it wasn’t until I noticed my dining partner’s face turn red after a few bites of a samosa that the message became loud and clear: Southern Spice does indeed live up to its name.
While many local Indian restaurants serve northern India cuisine, Southern Spice, which opened a year ago near 108th and L Streets, specializes in dishes from the country’s south. The region’s food is generally fierier than the subtler heat of northern India.
But don’t let the heat scare you. Much of the food I tried during two recent visits was excellent, and many entrees can be tamed for palates unaccustomed to hot spice.
Samosas are usually my go-to Indian appetizer, and every place in town serves the savory, pyramid-shape pastries filled with potatoes and peas. Here, however, they’re plumper, crispier and spicier than I’ve had elsewhere. Though they weren’t uncomfortably spicy, they definitely packed some heat. The accompanying mint chutney also had a fiery kick, while the tamarind chutney was on the sweeter side.
The chicken tikka masala was also spicier than I’ve had. The luscious, creamy dish delivered a slow burn that seemed closer to medium-hot than the mild we ordered. Even so, it was among our favorite dishes.
Served with a side of long-grain basmati rice, the dish featured boneless chicken breast roasted in a tandoor oven until moist and tender, then finished in a rich, silky tomato-and-cream sauce with cumin, cardamom, coriander and other fragrant spices.
From the menu’s vegetarian section, we ordered aloo gobi — bite-size pieces of potato and cauliflower cooked in a rich, wonderfully aromatic sauce. From the list of seafood options, we tried shrimp curry, which is sauteed shrimp seasoned with ginger, garlic and garam masala (an Indian spice blend), cooked in an onion-and-tomato-based sauce with curry leaves.
We ordered mild for both dishes yet there was still enough heat to keep us reaching for our water glasses. We also kept reaching for baskets of warm, freshly baked naan and roti (Indian flatbreads) to sop up every bit of delectable sauce.
Owner and chef Sridevi Mullapudi, who is from Hyderabad, said many of the dishes featured at her restaurant are based on recipes from her grandmother. Most entrees can be prepared mild. The exceptions were vindaloo, rogan josh and chettinad, which are only available medium or hot.
We tried the chicken chettinad, and went with medium since mild wasn’t an option. It was spicier than other entrees we tried, but it wasn’t over the top. A classic southern Indian dish, chettinad is seasoned with red chilies, coriander, cardamom, coconut powder and lots of black pepper.
“It’s very intense,” Mullapudi said.
If you like Indian food with a lot of bold flavor, you’ll find it at Southern Spice. Can’t take the heat? Don’t sweat it. Just let your server know you’d like something low on the heat scale.
One of the great things about Indian food is that even dishes that are mildly spiced still pack great flavor.